Monday, July 09, 2007

PS 7's pretty spectacular for new DC dining

It's funny that I completely forgot that Saturday was 7/7/07, but was reminded with an adorable choice of tasting menu on arrival last night at PS 7's (777 I St, NW PS 7's opened last year and was nominated for best new restaurant and best pastry chef for this year's Rammy's, and I am confident after last night's meal, that we will see many more nominations in the future.

Chef/Owner PETER SMITH was executive chef at Vidalia for many years where he garnered a James Beard Award and now has his own home in a subdued elegant setting with brown putty earthy colors, smoked glass, votive candles and while there are high ceilings for airiness, the noise factor is subdued. The feeling extends to the rest rooms which are oddly dark with black tiles and very low lighting and the most adorable pair of goldfish bowls (with fish) mounted into the walls! I loved the sunken glass sinks with lighting from underneath.

The warm feeling does not stop with the decor, as the staff is very friendly and helpful as well. There are a number of novel and rare ingredients which are carefully explained. When we asked about the TONKA BEAN, it was Chef Smith himself who appeared to welcome us and show us the bean and break it in half for us to smell. It turns out to be akin to vanilla rather than a legume and looks like a smoked almond.

We ordered one bottle of each color to share with our guests and both were super hits in their own ways in the $40 range. The creamy (from oak) J Vineyard PINOT GRIS 2005 form Russian River is a wanna-be chardonnay with more fruit, yet that odd oak flavor that makes it so wonderfully creamy and great for most fish. The SARAH's VINEYARD 2003 "Besson Vineyard" ZINFANDEL from Santa Clara (Gilroy, California) had a 16.4% alcohol level from Old Vines and really was a flavorful (you could not taste the intense alcohol) wine with lots of berry fruits and only a hint of pepper, but some mild spices; a great wine for any meat on the menu.

Our meal started with an amuse (shooter glass) of CHILLED ASPARAGUS SOUP with Lemon LAVENDER CREME FRAICHE which was cold and so refreshing in the 95+degree heat! Indeed the lavender theme was carried through the meal and was quite nice for a change.

The appetizers were all top notch from a super-rich yet not too creamy LOBSTER BISQUE loaded with chunks of lobster to two very complex presentations that really were not only beautiful but intriguing: BABY BEET SALAD with Crisp FRIED GOAT CHEESE NAPOLEON, Honey & Grapefruit Marinated BABY BEETS and the Beet & TONKA BEAN Vinagrette. Even more fun was Chef Smith's version of the DPJ or "Duck Peanut & Jelly" made from CRISP DUCK CONFIT& Toasted SPICED WALNUTS sandwiched between POTATO TUILES with PICKLED MUSCAT GRAPES and DUCK PROSCIUTTO & MIZUNA. How fun this was!

The warm bread arrived as well and it was literally impossible to resist, so we asked for MUCH more. There were COTTAGE CHEESE & DILL mini rolls and CARAMELIZED ONION & WALNUT mini rolls,but the touch of heaven was the perfectly flaky APPLE BACON BISCUITS that melted in our mouths (over and over indeed!).

I opted for the $47 Three course 7/7/07 menu (there was also a $57 four course) as this was a holdover from the weekend and most welcome to my palate. I started with LOBSTER STUFFED SQUASH BLOSSOMS with Braised BABY LEEKS and NEW POINT COMFORT OYSTERS (from the Rapahannock Northern Neck of Va.) in a Tarragon & Oyster Cream. It was called Oyster "liquor" but this is misleading as it contains no alcohol. The dish was heavenly with the huge blossoms fried to crispness and filled with a mousseline like lobster filling. To top it off that J Pinot Gris was brilliant with this rich shellfish preparation.

My entree was the CHERRYWOOD SMOKED PORK which comes (as many of the dishes do) in a trio format on a large rectangular divided plate. On one side was GLAZED BABY TURNIPS, in the center the Smoked PORK over MUSTARD GREENS with Cracklin's in Pistachio Oil and on the other side a superbly crunchy slice of PORK BELLY (which I often find too fatty, but here was perfect) over CARAMELIZED ONIONS. Each element was wonderful and made the dish a brilliant whole.

Other plates at the table were the SAUTEED SEA SCALLOPS with MOREL Mushrooms, very spicy ASPARAGUS, House Cured Bacon, Market Corn and Black Plum Vinaigrette. A side order of Mashed Potatoes were creamy and rich.

The POPCORN CRUSTED HALIBUT is another novelty in ingredients with Wilted WATERCRESS, SMOKED (Pop)CORN, House Cured Bacon, CIPPOLINI Onions, and that TONKA BEAN-POPCORN EMULSION. It disappeared so fast, I failed to get a taste but the emulsion was delish.

Will opted for another trio which was the BRAISED VEAL BREAST with WILD MUSHROOMS a la CREME, ROASTED SWEETBREADS and Pommes Dauphin. This was one of the largest entrees I have seen recently and was superb to boot with rich (and huge) sweetbreads and tasty tender veal.

Desserts come in Little Sins for $7 and Big SIns for $12. We tried three little sins which were the VANILLA LEMON CREME BRULEE, the ICE CREAM SUNDAE of Chocolate Ice Cream, Fudge Brownie, Bruleed Bananas, and Caramelized Hazelnuts. If we thought that Pastry Chef NAOMI GALLEGO had succeeded here we were blown away with the simple MINI-DONUTS with Dipping Sauces. My menu included a spectacular dessert of STRAWBERRY-RHUBARD TARTINE with Lavender Creme Fraiche and STRAWBERRY RHUBARB SORBET. The excellent oblong flaky pastry of hazelnut broche was covered with wonderfully marinated fruit (fresh chunky compote) and sat on a sweet slash or raspberry sauce.

We got a plate of mignardises that we sampled but ended up packing up fro home. There were so many options it was mind-boggling. Starting with the RASPBERRY DARK CHOCOLATE and COGNAC DARK CHOCOLATES to MUSCADINE TRUFFLES, Chocolate covered Hazelnuts that were divine, Mandarin or Peach Jellies (a bit too much sugared for me), LAVENDAR MARSHMALLOWS (more on that theme!) and finally the piece de resistance that I think must end every meal at PS 7's, Naomi Gallego's brilliant SALTED CARAMELS.

Kudos to our server Nick who was informative, pleasant and just plain great and the whole staff who made this meal even better. I know we will be headed back again soon!